Full-fledged yet svelte, the Samsung NP-Q320 all-purpose notebook has the muscle to serve as your primary work/school home computer.

The laptop is compact and light enough (2.33kg) not to break your back, it has a 13.4in screen that you don't need to squint at, and the Samsung NP-Q320 is powerful enough to run most major applications well. Still, this nice all-purpose laptop suffers from a couple of minor usability problems.

Problem number one is the Samsung NP-Q320's backlit LED screen. Given its 1366-by-768-pixel resolution and at 13.4in-diagonal size, you'd expect such a screen to save power and perhaps improve color or contrast.

But the Samsung NP-Q320's screen doesn't show colours or contrast ratio very well. Images look slightly washed out at maximum brightness, and blacks are not quite black enough. And unfortunately, as you lower the brightness level, the contrast gets worse. The poor range of vertical viewing angles leads me to believe that the NP-Q320 uses a six-bit TN (twisted nematic) panel - a regrettably common component in budget-conscious laptops.

The Samsung NP-Q320's keyboard is easy to type on, and the trackpad is responsive and accurate, with left and right buttons that permit accurate no-look pressing. Some keys (such as Alt and Ctrl) are a bit narrow, evidently to make room for a seemingly unnecessary menu key to the right of the spacebar. Still, for its size, we found this notebook comfortable to work on.

The right edge hosts a slot-loading DVD drive, a USB port, and a power connector, leaving little room for anything else. As a result, Samsung crowded the Samsung NP-Q320's left edge with connectors: ethernet, VGA, USB, USB/eSATA combo, HDMI, microphone, headphone, and ExpressCard.

Although it's great to see so many options on a smaller notebook, we wish that the industrial design hadn't prevented any plugs from going in the back. Lacking room for an SD card slot on either side, Samsung placed the slot all by itself on the front edge. (The little plastic plug for this slot is nearly impossible to pull out, by the way.) The front edge of the Samsung NP-Q320 also hosts a row of blue and amber LEDs to indicate power, hard-drive usage, Wi-Fi, and so on.

The Samsung NP-Q320's performance compares favourably with that of other notebooks in the budget price bracket. The 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor loped to a WorldBench 6 score of 94 - impressive for a sub-£750 laptop. The nVidia GeForce G 105M with 256MB of RAM (the weakest discrete graphics system nVidia sells) handles image production; and it's certainly a step up from any sort of integrated graphics.

But while it can manage casual games pretty well, the Samsung NP-Q320 is out off its league when challenged by a high-end game. At 1024-by-768-pixel resolution and high quality settings, the laptop managed a frame rate of just 22 frames per second on Unreal Tournament III and 21 fps on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

Still, the nVidia chip does a better job with video decoding than Intel's integrated graphics, which can make a big difference if you plan to put the HDMI port to use. The Samsung NP-Q320's battery life of 3 hours, 56 minutes puts it a little behind the average for this category. The Acer TravelMate 6293 continues to rool the roost on this measure, with a battery life of almost 8 hours.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

PCworld.com

Samsung NP-Q320: Specs

  • Intel Core 2 Duo (T6400) 2.0GHz 2048KB (L2 Cache)
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 3GB (4096MB) 800MHz DDR2 RAM
  • 13.4in 1366-by-768-pixel TFT screen
  • nVidia GeForce G 105M with 256MB Dedicated
  • 320GB SATA Hard Drive
  • DVD Super Multi DL
  • VGA, HDMI, 3x USB 2.0, microphone jack, headphone port
  • Ethernet 10/100/1000Mbps Integrated
  • IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • integrated webcam
  • 6-cell battery
  • 326x228.5x36.6mm
  • 2.33kg
  • Intel Core 2 Duo (T6400) 2.0GHz 2048KB (L2 Cache)
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium
  • 3GB (4096MB) 800MHz DDR2 RAM
  • 13.4in 1366-by-768-pixel TFT screen
  • nVidia GeForce G 105M with 256MB Dedicated
  • 320GB SATA Hard Drive
  • DVD Super Multi DL
  • VGA, HDMI, 3x USB 2.0, microphone jack, headphone port
  • Ethernet 10/100/1000Mbps Integrated
  • IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • integrated webcam
  • 6-cell battery
  • 326x228.5x36.6mm
  • 2.33kg

OUR VERDICT

At £670 the Samsung Q320 poses strong competition for other well-equipped 13in notebooks, such as the Dell Studio XPS 13. Samsung's model has a little more muscle than that, but it isn't quite as stylish. Overall, the NP-Q320 is a pretty good value for a general-purpose laptop. This machine is a bit heavier than most 13in models, but it's compact and lightweight enough to carry around all day at school or work, big enough to work on easily, handsome enough not to walk around with in public, and fast enough to be your primary computer. If the screen were better, the Samsung NP-Q320 would be an outstanding bargain.

Find the best price